With some of its buildings deteriorating and a lack of awareness about the shrine outside southern Ontario, the Martyrs' Shrine is developing a strategic plan to carry it into the future.
"Some of our buildings are deteriorating. Some parts of our property need other management," said Jesuit Father Bernie Carroll, director of the shrine in Midland, Ont. "We need to have a plan that's going to take into account all of that so we're better able to respond."
A couple years ago the Jesuits thought they could tack on a welcome centre and expand the gift shop. But as fundraising to support the project sputtered, the Jesuits realized they needed a more fundamental rethinking of what the shrine does and who it is for.
The Jesuits are now developing a broader, more ambitious strategic plan that will include a welcome centre but also convert the seasonal shrine into a year-round ministry to all the cultures and communities in southern Ontario.
"When other groups come and they come out of their cultural and national backgrounds, they come with different languages. And we can't always address them from the point of view of the Jesuits who are here," said Carroll.
The shrine re-opens for the summer May 4 and expects to draw similar numbers to the 100,000-plus visitors who walked its grounds last year.
It's 87 years since the Canadian Jesuits purchased the Standin farm across the road from the archeological remains of the original St. Marie village.
Rather than just maintaining the buildings and grounds as they are so that people can visit, Carroll envisions an outward mission for Martyrs' Shrine, educating new Canadians, children and students about the origins of the Church in Canada.
Carroll is inspired by Pope John Paul II's words when he visited the shrine in 1984.
"He referred to this – the church and the grounds – as a house of prayer and a home of peace," he said. "This is where their faith is renewed and where they come to encounter God. And then they go out from here and become missionaries to the world."
Carroll also wants to see Martyrs' Shrine live up to its billing as a national shrine. It tends to draw heavily from Toronto and the rest of southern Ontario, but isn't well known across Canada, he said. With a stronger web presence and more vigorous promotion he hopes Catholics in all regions get to know Martyrs' Shrine.
"The faith really became established here in a new way, in an imaginative way, in a zealous way in the history of our country."